The Cincinnati Bengals just faced the Indianapolis Colts in their preseason finale, but they turn right around and play them again to open the regular season Sunday on the road.
No secrets were shared in last week’s clash at Paul Brown Stadium, as both teams sat the majority of their starters to let backups battle for roster spots and play calls were relatively vanilla in a game Indianapolis won 27-26 on a late touchdown.
However, the Colts, will now have a little extra Intel as former Bengals H-back Ryan Hewitt signed with Indianapolis on Monday, two days after his contract was terminated. Hewitt, who had been with Cincinnati since 2014, adds another solid blocker to the mix, but the biggest question entering the week is whether Andrew Luck will be leading the Colts’ offense Sunday.
Luck sat out of practice last week because of a foot injury, but first-year Colts head coach Frank Reich told local media the franchise quarterback would have been on the field if it weren’t the preseason, and Luck was back to work Monday, according to the team website. The three-time Pro Bowler is looking to show he’s back after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum on his right throwing shoulder in January 2017 and missing all of last year. If Luck is not available, the Colts turn to backup Jacoby Brissett, who passed for just 193.6 yards per game with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year in Luck’s place.
Indianapolis struggled as a whole last year, finishing 4-12, but the team went 8-8 the previous two campaigns and hasn’t had a winning record since going 11-5 in Luck’s first three seasons. Reich steps in this season seeking to turn that around after spending the past two years as offensive coordinator for the 2017 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The Colts last year ranked among the bottom three in the league in total offense and defense, while averaging 16.4 points and allowing opponents 25.3 points per game, and a big chunk of the offense came from Frank Gore (961 yards, 3 TDs), who is now with Miami. Second-year player Marlon Mack (358 yards, 3 TDs) now steps into the starter’s role but did not practice Monday while still dealing with a hamstring injury and the next guy behind him is Robert Turbin, who is suspended four games.
Indianapolis’ remodeled 4-3 defense has question marks all over the field with a lot of young players filling starting roles, including middle linebacker Anthony Walker, the team’s 2017 fifth-round pick who missed most of camp with a groin injury. The defensive line lacks a superstar pass-rusher, but Jabaal Sheard has proven adept at generating pressure while recording 41.5 sacks in his seven NFL seasons and there is some depth there. Opponents picked apart the secondary last year, torching the Colts for 246.6 passing yards per game.
Cincinnati pulled out a 24-23 win against Indianapolis a year ago, thanks to defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s 16-yard interception return for a touchdown and the game’s final points with seven minutes left. The Colts lead the series 19-11 overall, including 11-6 as the home team and 4-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008. Both teams went 3-1 this preseason.
Colts center Ryan Kelly is from West Chester and graduated from Lakota West High School. … Colts tight end Ryan Hewitt spent his first four seasons with the Bengals before he was cut Saturday. … Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert and safety Jessie Bates are from Fort Wayne, Ind. … Colts defensive tackle Margus Hunt, a second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2013, and wide receiver James Wright (Reserve/Injured), a seventh-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2014, were both with Cincinnati until the 2016 season. … Colts offensive quality control coach Gunnard Twyner played for the Bengals in 1997. … Bengals defensive quality control/linebackers coach Marcus Lewis played at Indiana State University from 2008-11. … Colts assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson played (1992- 94) and coached (’99-2004) at Miami University. … Bengals running backs coach Kyle Caskey coached at Indiana State University from 2006-08.
AFC North Outlook
Baltimore (0-0): The Ravens went 5-0 this preseason. They open against Buffalo on Sunday, looking to bounce back from a disappointing finish to 2017 when the Bengals beat them on a 49-yard touchdown pass at the end of the game to remove them from the playoff picture. Baltimore finished 9-7.
Cleveland (0-0): The Browns were 3-1 in the preseason and seeking improvement in Hue Jackson’s third year. They became the second team in NFL history to finish with an 0-16 record last year, following a 1-15 finish in 2016. They open at home against Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (0-0): The Steelers also went 3-1 this preseason and are coming off a 13-3 finish a year ago. They lost to Jacksonville in a divisional-round playoff game – their fourth straight trip to the postseason. Mike Tomlin begins his 12th season as Pittsburgh’s head coach Sunday against the Browns.